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Illustrations by Robert Ullman
You just graduated from high school. You’ve spent the summer in residence on your parents’ couch. You don’t write particularly well, and you balk at supervision. What are you going to do?
You check out the classifieds. You could be a car salesman at Pohanka Chevrolet. You could try to qualify as a construction superintendent, overseeing large commercial projects for a drywall contractor. Then there’s the vacancy for a “vet kennel attendant.”
No wonder you’re not picking up that phone. Those jobs involve a lot of things you don’t want to deal with: uppity customers, manual labor, dog shit. You need something more suited to your disposition.
We have just the fit for you: D.C.’s Metropolitan Police Department (MPD). For years, Chief Charles H. Ramsey, his recruitment specialists, and the D.C. Council have tried and tried to bump the force from 3,600 to 3,800 strong. They’ve pitched the police department as a noble calling, a chance to practice “big-city policing,” to be in the vanguard of “community policing.” They want you.
In an official department brochure aimed at would-be recruits, Ramsey asks, “What does it take to be a member of this team? It takes people with integrity, discipline and drive….It takes people who are true problem solvers…people who really want to make a difference in the lives of others.”
Don’t let the hype fool you: It takes neither integrity, discipline, nor drive to work on the force.
It’s a job that connects all your favorite pastimes—sitting around, eating, bullying people, writing incomplete sentences. After years of research and development,our investigators have found that policing is the easiest job in the District.
Read our Insider’s Guide to Real Policing and see how easy it is to be a real live cop—like the cops you don’t see every day in your neighborhood! With minimal training required—don’t worry, you’ll get a lot of help with that fitness test—we guarantee that your department-issue shield will be your ticket to Easy Street!
But wait, you’re thinking, there’s got to be a catch. Nope! With our Insider’s Guide, we have outlined in five easy-to-read categories the benefits of joining D.C.’s finest.
Note: Our guide contains real quotes from real cops and real details from real situations actually seen by Insider’s Guide researchers.
You’re thinking: Being a cop seems hard. It’s not. Trust us. Being a cop means making the city your living room. Being a cop means driving around in your cruiser with the windows rolled down and the AC cranked. Being a cop means never having to deal with angry citizens.
More important: Being a cop means knowing you will always get a raise no matter how little you do.
Just ask former Executive Assistant Chief Terrance Gainer. He says that during the four years he was with the force, there were only a handful of cops, a “statistically insignificant” group, who received below-average scores on their annual performance evaluations. That’s like one out of 3,600. Not bad odds. Besides, he insists, none of the below-average set are ever terminated. In fact: “I’m not aware of anybody not getting a raise,” says Gainer.
Stress-Free Work Environment
It’s a well-known fact among cops: 10 percent of the force does all the work. These folks prowl the streets looking for perps, go hungry on stakeouts, do all the paperwork required to process arrests, and make it to court on time to net convictions.
That, of course, is too much to ask. Your aim is to place yourself squarely within the other 90 percent. As a member of this not-so-select group, you do the exact opposite of the 10-percenters: You prowl the streets looking for hot chicks, you interrupt stakeouts for steak-outs, and you avoid paperwork like dark alleys.
Coming in Second
You’re wondering: How do I become a 90-percenter? It’s easy, cops say: Come in second. If there’s a robbery in progress, take your time getting there so that no one will expect you to find the culprits. If the dispatcher announces an assault in progress, wait for somebody else to take the call—and then show up.
“You don’t be the first unit to arrive on the scene,” says an ex-sergeant. “Especially if there’s a fight. You don’t see it. You’re just there to assist.” In other words, you set out orange cones, light flares, and shoo away nosy old ladies. You’re traffic flow.
This formula for loafing explains a phenomenon that every D.C. citizen has witnessed: cruiser overkill. That is, a cop flags down a suspect for an everyday infraction, such as speeding, reckless driving, or perhaps even a burglary. Then, out of nowhere, two, three, five auxiliary cruisers come rushing in, lights flashing, sirens blaring. They’re rubberneckers. They’re 90-percenters.
Once in a while, of course, you will have to arrive first on a call. Don’t panic—just do nothing. Whatever you do, don’t write up a report—just tell the victim you’ll “notebook” it. If confronted later, say the caller was drunk. No one will check.
If you worry about getting caught, you know you’re a rookie. “Not a thing they can do to you, buddy,” says the ex-sergeant. “You’re Teflon.” The rank-and-file used to have a motto, he says: “Big cases, big problems. Little cases, little problems. No cases, no problems.”
Slacking off is an integral part of the job. “Thank god every cop wasn’t 100 percent aggressive,” says Sgt. John Brennan, a veteran 10-percenter with the Major Narcotics Branch. “I don’t know if we could handle it. The streets would be quiet. You have to have your mix.”
Parable: Know Your Place
On a late-January evening, Investigator Kevin Rachlin, a 10-percenter, answered a call for a “domestic” in an apartment complex in Southeast. When he and his partner arrived, they found a sergeant surrounded by screaming citizens threatening each other. The only one who looked scared? The sergeant.
The sergeant attempted the usual 90-percenter aerobics. He paced. He held up his arms, signaling folks to calm down. No one responded.
Rachlin assessed the situation, stepped in front of the sergeant, and ordered everyone in his best drillmaster-meets-DMX voice to separate and chill. The sergeant moved to the side and assumed the crowd-control position, mumbling to himself.
Soon enough, order was restored—no thanks to the sergeant. “I would not give him the time of day in regular life,” Rachlin said back in his squad car. “I mean, not only doesn’t he know anything, he won’t make a decision….You got officials that are so scared of their own shadows, they won’t make a fucking command decision.”
Moral: Never show up at the scene of a crime before a 10-percenter. Circle the block or collar a jaywalker.
OK, so we’ve established that you want to be a 90-percenter. The only thing you have to figure out now is what kind of 90-percenter you’ll be. With the help of experienced cops, we offer you four easy-to-emulate archetypes:
The 7-Eleven Police
Yes, it’s a cliche, but for good reason. At any given point, you will find a group of blue hanging out at a “Sev” somewhere in the city. Some have graduated beyond the doughnut. A few years ago, one particularly inspired cop turned his favorite 7-Eleven, at 8th Street and Maryland Avenue NE, into his own private kitchen. He kept his own secret stash of coffee grounds behind the counter so he could have a fresh batch of his home brew whenever he felt like it.
Once the coffee is brewed, Sev cops like to sip it in the store. They don’t leave the home of the Big Gulp easily. Two years ago, a sergeant in the 4th District tried to keep his troops from congregating at the 7-Eleven on Mount Pleasant Street NW. His officers turned the convenience store into a trench that they would never abandon. Since the official couldn’t police them at all times, their sit-in worked, and he relented. “It’s just a bunch of fat old timers who think they could just wait for their pensions to kick in,” was the sergeant’s comment.
No need to fret: A few years ago, 7-Eleven decided to partner with the police force and turned its stores into “mini-stations” with the expectation that the officers would use the extra phone lines and desks to do paperwork and interview witnesses. That’s officialspeak for catching up on the latest pictorials in Maxim and making booty calls. When asked why the 7-Eleven is such a cop magnet, one officer responded: “What? We can’t have a place to chill out?”
No matter how long you hang out, rest assured that the 7-Eleven clerk will never shoo you out. After all, they have no reason to. When asked why cops spend so much time at Sev outlets, 7-Eleven spokesperson Margaret Chabris replies, “The police may be on break. They could very easily be on break.”
Go to the hottest night spots and you’ll see a lot of on-duty cops double-parked. Come out to the clubs along U Street or 14th Street NW, such as Diversite or the Saint. Officers call it “crowd control.” Is this a popular task? “Big time,” says one. “Especially if there’s a lot of girls there.”
Every district has its share of slaps—stupid lazy-ass police. Former police official Gainer elaborates: “You have to come up and hit them on the side of their head to get their attention.” Don’t fret, you won’t really get hit on the head! Given that you can’t be trusted for articulate thought, you will be accorded free rein, known in cop lingo as “dumb space,” from which to operate. Your tasks will include writing parking tickets in the middle of the night and falling asleep at community meetings.
Good work if you can get it.
The Sick-Leave Crew
If you feel that you just don’t fit in with any of the above categories, you can always get injured on the job and take sick or “stress” leave. According to department figures, in December 1998, there were 224 officers who were unavailable for “full duty.” In December 2000, there were 305 officers. And in February 2002, there were 228 officers. With you, the tally could jump to 229.
“We used to call them ‘Jerry’s Kids,’” says one former department official. “Everybody knows who they are.”
“We had this one girl who used to ride a mountain bike,” the official remembers. “Every time she got on the bike, she got hurt. She got hurt all the time. We tried to get her off the bike, and [the department] wouldn’t do it. They just don’t learn.”
You, too, can fall off a mountain bike!
Room to Speak
Being a cop means having endless free time. Filling it is the easy part—just bitch and moan. Once you’ve mastered the loafing strategies laid out above, you’ll realize that complaining will come as naturally as reclining the driver’s seat in your cruiser. All you have to do is seek out another 90-percenter to kick off a griping session.
Parable: Being a Baby is a Full-Time Job
On a Thursday night in late January, a 23-year-old-man was shot and mortally wounded inside an apartment hallway on the 2300 block of Pitts Place SE. A description of the killer was radioed to officers on patrol, and soon enough they found a guy fitting the description walking along South Capitol Street.
Nine cops converged on the scene. Within minutes, the officers determined that the guy in handcuffs was not the killer. They let the guy go. But all the cruisers remained double-parked along South Capitol. Forget about finding the real killer—it was time to bitch.
The 7th District officers started grousing about a possible change in shift times—a perfect little administrative annoyance to get any cop riled up. All nine cops gathered around in a circle and started blowbagging. One red-faced cop said he was getting a petition up. Another said they should all just wait and see. Still others just stood, arms on hips, looking perfectly disgusted about this potential schedule switch.
More cruisers arrived. Now there were 11 cops double-parked on South Capitol Street. The Pitts Place murder had taken place an hour before. A call regarding an assault in progress sputtered from an officer’s radio. But what about this shift change!
Nodding toward the crowd, Investigator Hank Williams said: “They could do this shit all night.”
Moral: You can, too!
Playing the complain game requires a bit of sophistication. As a young officer, you must seek out “whining zones,” places where you can blow off some steam without interruption: the halls of Superior Court, the steps of police headquarters, the Ranch House diner just beyond the District in Prince George’s County, the FOP bar, any little park, or any 7-Eleven (see above).
The topics themselves can vary. Just ask around. We did. An officer in 4th District summed it up best when asked what his fellow officers gripe about: “Everything. Just everything.”
Don’t take his word for it, though. Below we have listed four can’t-miss conversation starters. These are sure to get any fellow grunt philosophizing!
“Man, we got no resources”
To be used when talking to reporters asking pesky questions about your performance. Variations include: “I don’t have a cruiser,” “The computers are down,” and “I have to buy my own notebooks.”
“We got no manpower”
To be used when you find yourself short-handed (see above) and have to answer the phones. This gripe will help out when you have to explain why your paperwork isn’t done on time.
“My supervisor doesn’t know shit”
To be used when you want to let somebody know you’ve seen a dead body or had to arrest a prostitute or two. Or when you’ve gone six months without an arrest. Before officials donned their blue work shirts to look like regular officers, you used to hear: “White shirts don’t know shit about real police work.” You may still encounter that line from an old timer. If so, come back with this: “The last time they saw real action was when they caught Under Siege on cable.”
“The FOP doesn’t do shit”
To be used anytime a fellow officer gets in trouble for shooting suspects in the back. The FOP is the Fraternal Order of Police, the strongest union in the city.
Even cruiser clowns and counter jockeys need to vent. Fully realized adults tend to vent by, say, writing a nasty letter, or perhaps filing a lawsuit or something.
You, however, can have a much more practical outlet for your frustrations, worries, and insecurities. It’s called the street, which you can own. We here at Insider’s Guide have spent years dissecting the police beat, looking into the souls of hundreds of cops, poring over dozens of depositions, and even questioning real live citizens. And we’ve discovered plenty of opportunities for cops to pour out their emotions.
What the department offers is a psychological release the likes of which you’ve never felt—one that doesn’t involve cumbersome self-help books or subscriptions to Rosie. You won’t feel any pinch in your wallet!
We’re talking about “the Beatdown.” It’s the most common way of making you and your fellow blues feel good. In the police department, humiliating citizens is a rite of passage for fresh-faced cops.
Parable: The Just-Because Beatdown
The call over the radio came from a female officer asking for backup. She reported that a young black male had mouthed off to her—a possible disorderly conduct—as she was making her patrols along the 1100 block of Chaplin Street SE. It was a Thursday evening in early November 1999, the first brutally cold night of the fall, and the 6th District was quiet. Three patrol officers showed up within minutes of the radio call.
The officers patted down the man, emptied his pockets, and found nothing. Just as they were unlocking the suspect’s handcuffs, two of his friends arrived on the scene. The three then confronted the officers, asking why the cops had to search their buddy—he lived on the block. “We don’t know him,” the female officer said. “We don’t know if he belongs here.”
Just as the debate appeared settled, Lt. Will Goodwin, the supervisor for Police Service Area 610, pulled up, fast. Before he had closed his car door, he was yelling at the three citizens. “I don’t want you out there in the street!” he barked. “I’m the law here! I’m the law here!”
“I live right here,” responded one of the residents, Nishka Mike, pointing to 1131 Chaplin.
“Say something to me,” Goodwin taunted back.
Mike obliged, mumbling that Goodwin and the other officers should be out catching killers and not jacking up people for standing in front of their own house.
“You locked up!” Goodwin hollered. The officers then slammed Mike against a stone wall bordering his property and cuffed him. When his friend Dana Thomas complained, Goodwin had her locked up, too.
The two were charged with “failure to follow an officer’s order.” The order that night was to simply shut up. “We got jobs to do just like you do, man,” Mike pleaded before being hauled down to the 6D station house. “I’m a plumber, man.” The officers all laughed.
Moral: Don’t take your frustrations out on your family and friends—there are plenty of other outlets on the street.
There’s more. After a few years on the force, you may advance beyond beatings and unnecessary lockups to exercises such as: jump-outs, Glock-waving, questionable shootings, and neighborhood bullying.
As you mature, you’ll learn how to home in on citizens’ weaknesses, what cops call the “humiliation zone.” Officers truly believe in ass kicking. A 7th District officer mouths the credo: “You had to kick motherfuckers in the ass. Sometimes you got to thump them. Once you pull it, you better use it. Don’t be playing, man.”
We’d like to showcase the current acquired taste—the on-the-street body cavity search! It is the most embarrassing way to show up perps in front of their friends and neighbors. All you need is a rubber glove. *
Parable: Fisting, Cop Style
On Feb. 1, 2000, on the 5100 block of Queens Stroll Place SE, 6th District Investigator Homer Littlejohn got to feel that rush with the help of an unwitting and innocent Ricardo Horn.
In a deposition taken on July 9, 2001, for his still-pending civil suit, Horn laid out the scene thus: “There was a lot of policemen just pushing people back. Someone was in the yard saying why are y’all pulling down a guy’s pants, you know. Why are y’all doing this out here…I felt like I was in the middle of everything and people was pushing people—officers were pushing people that way.
“Officer Littlejohn had pulled my—took my—unbuttoned my pants and unzipped them. Pulled my pants down to my knees. Pulled my underwears to a point where he could get his hands up there and checked up under the front of my body, you know between my legs and my groin area, up under there, and felt around there and went around to the back, with his index finger in a circular motion checked [each] side of my anus.”
Horn’s genitals were exposed. He says he could feel Littlejohn’s index finger up his rectum. “It went deep. It went deep in me,” he stated of the finger. “And it didn’t feel comfortable.” Littlejohn probed inside there twice and found nothing.
Moral: Priests lose their jobs over this stuff. Not cops: In his deposition, Littlejohn simply took the Fifth Amendment and returned
*Warning: Lube your glove or you might run into butt clamping. At a Feb. 15, 2001, preliminary hearing in Superior Court, Littlejohn laid out this embarrassing problem, commenting on a rectal encounter with another suspect: “When I grabbed the narcotics, he tightened up his leg muscles and his buttocks held my hand. It took several officers to hold him against the door while I tried to pull my hand out, and he began yelling, ‘Why did you put that in my buttocks?’”
Still think it’s too good to be true? At this point, you might be wondering: What about the boss? Since we haven’t brought up supervision, that’s a good question. Don’t worry: There’s no way you could get in any trouble.
Let’s break it down:
Your first line of attackers will come from the Office of Citizen Complaint Review (OCCR). If a citizen has a real beef with something you’ve done, he or she will file a complaint with this independent agency.
Since opening its doors, on Jan. 8, 2001, the OCCR has received 572 formal complaints. Like its predecessor, the Civilian Complaint Review Board, it does little more that paper-shuffling.
According to Executive Director Philip Eure, the board has handled very few of its serious complaints. It has referred 211 to the police department and another 18 to the U.S. Attorney’s Office. The board has 120 cases pending examination. Eure says the board has yet to bring on board its own “complaint examiners.”
With the already cash-strapped agency taking a $108,000 cut this fiscal year, expect your complaint to be handled long after the angry citizen moves to P.G. County. Or better yet, handled by one of your own.
But on the off chance that your complaint is deemed serious, it may end up at the U.S. Attorney’s Office. The office houses roughly 350 prosecutors. Only three, working occasionally with the Justice Department, are charged with investigating police brutality. And those prosecutors depend on cops—most of them 90-percenters like you—to investigate those cases.
One prosecutor admits that those investigations never run efficiently. “You’d like something to get done, and when it doesn’t get done [you get] a lot of excuses,” he says. “I didn’t think [they] were the most aggressive unit. They tended to be the kind of place where everything needed to be reviewed umpteen times by supervisors.”
The U.S. Attorney’s Office has been investigating former Chief Larry Soulsby for all manner of alleged malfeasance and cronyism for four years and has yet to indict the ex-top cop. Your piddly little citizen-beating case will have to get in back of a really long line.
Still scared? Well, remember those cops who traded racist e-mails more than a year ago? Their files are still sitting at the prosecutor’s office.
If you do end with an excessive-force charge and have to take the stand, it’s still not a problem. Some good excuses:
“I feared for my life”
Say these words with emotion and you’re home free.
Learn to accuse the perp of
Especially relevant in shooting cases. To be used thus: “As the suspect was running away from me, he made suspicious movements around his waistband.” They always go for the waistband. Crooks in D.C. never have guns in any other place. At least that’s what you’ll have juries believing!
It’s an attack on all the hard work you’ve put in
If the complaints start piling up, explaining them away is easy with the following: “It’s just drug boys pissed because they got locked up.” Remember: Citizens have no motive to lie, but defendants do. So always arrest the ones you beat up. Most popular fake charges: APO (assaulting a police officer), disorderly conduct, and failure to obey an officer’s order.
Prosecutor Deborah Sines explains: “All the cop has to do is take the stand and cry and look at a jury with tears in his eyes, and say, ‘I lost it. I’m trying to do the right thing. I’m trying to be a good cop. People spit on us. People shoot us. They have no respect. I lost it. I’m so sorry.’ Not one juror will convict him.”
Take it from us: D.C. cops have offered far worse testimonials. After getting stabbed by an unknown assailant on June 20, 1998, at the intersection of 14th Street and Park Road NW, Officer Edward Miller fired his Glock, hitting unarmed suspect Jose Joya several times. When later asked why he fired his weapon, Miller told a prosecutor: “I knew I had to get a shot off because I would get teased back at the station by the guys at 4D for not getting a shot off.” Joya won a $500,000 civil-suit settlement in 2000.
Miller returned to work.
The only time complaints matter is during your first 18 months on the job. During this probationary period, you have to watch out. This is where the department does have the power to take away your lunch money.
One recent freshman, Mark Dickerson, was fired after receiving 17 citizen complaints—of which eight alleged force or excessive force, five alleged harassment, one alleged planting drugs, and one alleged an e-mail violation—in that 18 months. Still, fear not: The FOP stands by its man. “He’s an excellent officer,” insists FOP Chair Gerald G. Neill, adding that the union is fighting his termination.
But what about after that probationary period? Chill.
Time is on your side. You have countless appeals, and when in doubt, you have the right to go to an arbitrator. “The union is strong, and arbitrators rule in ways that defy logic,” explains Chief Ramsey. But be prepared to wait months and months. The process, Ramsey explains, is “lengthy, and it leaves everybody in limbo for a long time.”
Former Assistant Chief Gainer says that he can recall only one cop who was asked to leave the streets in his four years with the MPD—Kristopher Payne, the author of several shootings. “He was bumped to a desk and [then] was activated with the military,” Gainer recalls.
Payne was never fired. And you won’t be, either!
Every big-city police force holds up its investigative units as its elite, the ones who work the hardest to ensure civilians’ safety and uphold the finest standards. But in this department, you’ve got no worries about that.
After playing musical desks with the homicide detectives, Chief Ramsey announced that he was lowering the goals for murder case closures from 60 percent to 50 percent this year. Imagine that—an employer that actually lowers your performance standards!
Ramsey has not given out separate goals for solving rapes, burglaries, robberies, and other violent offenses. According to D.C. Councilmember Kathy Patterson’s office, the department has refused to give closure rates for those crimes to her Judiciary Committee for the past two years. Patterson is still waiting. So are we. When we called the department, we were informed that the computers were getting overhauled and that those numbers couldn’t be produced.
The numbers are undoubtedly very low. According to the FBI’s 2000 statistics, the District ranked 28th out of 33 major cities for burglary closure rates (7.4 percent); it ranked 31st for robbery closure rates (10.6 percent); it ranked 29th for closure rates in rape cases (27.1 percent).
So what does it mean for you? It means that as your rank rises, your stress level does not. Even the most heinous crimes are allowed to go unpunished at the MPD. This leaves plenty of important tasks to take up your time.
Like decorating your office space. At the 7th District, investigators have turned their work area into a replica of a 13-year-old boy’s bedroom, complete with well-tanned and oiled scantily-clad-supermodel posters tacked to the walls. They’ve added more raunchy fare to a tack board: rows of Polaroids of handcuffed suspects. Drawn on the pics are large, erect penises. One caption reads: “Gimme that dick.” Another shows a cop with fake blood staining his shirt front. The caption reads: “Oh shit I am shot!”
There is still much, much more cool humor. Another picture shows a cop pretending his metal baton is his dick. Others show cop-on-cop fake fucking and fake oral sex.
Of course, there are also a few shots of cops asleep at their desks.
Don’t delay! Join up today! Applications may be obtained at:
Metropolitan Police Department, Office of Recruiting, 200 Indiana Ave. NW, Room 2169, Washington, DC 20001
Art accompanying story in the printed newspaper is not available in this archive: Illustrations by Robert Ullman.